Emily Gillies believes that creativity and an artistic nature have come naturally for her.
"My grandpa did photography himself as well as painting," the North Portal photographer said in an interview at her studio. "He did the looms and he did woodworking. And then my grandma kept a craft shop for 30 years. So I was inspired by them, and I could always see how they used their craft and always honed it and kept it a focal point in their lives."
Gillies, who is the owner of Prevailing Winds Photography, was among the southeast Saskatchewan artists who participated in the Estevan Arts Council's self-guided Visual Arts Studio Tours from July 19 to 21. Local arts supporters travelled to several different studios, galleries and businesses to view the creativity of local painters, sculptors and photographers.
Gillies' studio is situated above the garage at her home in North Portal. Her immersion into photography was a slow and gradual process. A self-taught photographer, she now boasts an extensive collection of images that have captured the endless changes of the Prairie landscape.
Photography has allowed her to bring her corner of the province to people who don't live in the southeast. It also allows people to see the region in a different way through lenses of her camera.
"I enjoy driving and seeing the scenes in my eyes, and framing them in my mind," said Gillies. "Being able to take the picture of it, keep that and share it with others, shares the scene with them."
The Hotel Saskatchewan has started to sell Gillies' photos at their gift shop, bringing her pictures to the hotel's thousands of guests each year.
Many people who view her pictures don't realize that the photos are taken in southeast Saskatchewan.
"I've had so many friends ask me 'Where did you take this picture? Where's this from?' And I'll say 'It's right by the highway that you drive on everyday,'" said Gillies. "They've never seen it that way and in that light."
Gillies enjoys taking pictures of barns and farm implements. It provides a connection between ancestors and current southeast Saskatchewan residents.
"Mostly I like natural, native things, as you'd find them, untouched," she said.
Pointing to a photo of ruts created by a tractor, she said she likes the texture of how the grasses intertwine with each other, and the negative spaces that develop between the tractors' tires.
Her next initiative is to an incorporate the loom that was owned by her grandparents, so that she can apply her photos to fabric, and then use the loom.
Digital photography is a flexible medium, she said, and Gillies can always print another copy of a photo. But it also leaves a picture without its uniqueness. A collector won't feel that their picture is a one-of-a-kind item.
Gillies has started to do some cutting and slicing work with her photos, to make them unique. The loom would make a photo even more unique, since it's rarely used. She doesn't know of anybody else who combines pictures, fabrics and looms.
"I can see in my mind, if I printed my photos on fabric, which I can, and that is lucky with digital photography," said Gillies. "And then, depending on how I cut them, and put them back together on a loom, I think I might get a really neat image that'll really speak to Saskatchewan."
The loom will also add to the texture interplay that exists between clouds and grass in nature, she said.
The self-guided arts tour allowed her to showcase her art and discuss her plans with new audiences. She had five visitors on July 19, 14 the following day and more than a dozen on the final day.
"I think it's good that anybody can be welcome to studios, because they're sort of hidden gems," said Gillies. "There is a large art community in Estevan, and it's hard to just find them and be one-on-one with them, unless they have a gallery showing."
Visitors included art enthusiasts from Estevan that she had never met before, and people from Estevan who she knows, but have never had the chance to tour her studio.
"I really had no expectations on how it was going to go when they approached us for this tour," said Gillies. "I was very happy to sign up and open my studio up to anybody, and have that publicity and exposure, and share my work with anybody who wanted to (view it)."
Gillies is pleased that Estevan is supportive of the arts community, that she has opportunities to display her art in galleries, and that businesses have been willing to showcase her pictures.